Last month, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an advisory on the epidemic of loneliness, isolation and lack of connection in America. If you’re among the 50% of Americans who are experiencing significant loneliness right now, you know what I’m talking. And you are not alone.
Today I’d like to take this headline a little deeper with Dr. Murthy’s own story. I’ll share an insight that hit me on a reluctant Father’s Day bike ride and you’ll find a tool on how to integrate your intellectual, emotional and moving centers – from the philosopher and mystic, George Gurdjieff.
The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #3
HEADLINE: How to ease the weight of loneliness
The Surgeon General’s advisory and opinion piece in the New York Times made headlines for weeks as he shared that we are in an epidemic of loneliness. His report isn’t referring to just feeling bad. He points out that when people are socially disconnected, their risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, dementia and stroke increases. One of the notable pieces of data he included is how lacking connection can increase the risk of premature death to levels comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
He documented his own struggle with loneliness:
Even when I was physically with the people I loved, I wasn’t present — I was often checking the news and responding to messages in my inbox. After my job ended, I felt ashamed to reach out to friends I had ignored. I found myself increasingly lonely and isolated, and it felt as if I was the only one who felt that way. Loneliness — like depression, with which it can be associated — can chip away at your self-esteem and erode your sense of who you are. That’s what happened to me.
Dr. Murthy has proposed a national framework to rebuild social connection and community. Among his recommendations:
1. Strengthen social infrastructure with school based programs, workplaces that foster social connection and community programs bringing people together.
2. Renegotiate our relationship with technology – so that we can be more present with each other.
3. Rebuild our connection to each other – by reaching out to people we know, checking on co-workers and helping people.
There’s a wealth of information in his piece, please read it here.
INSIGHT: Connecting, moving and getting out of my head
Sunday was Father’s Day. After our morning walk, my husband and I sat drinking our coffee and I wished him a Happy Father’s Day.
“I’d really like to go on that bike ride we talked about – if we go now, we can be home before 11am,” he said to me as he took another sip of coffee.
It’s true, he’d brought this up earlier in the week. And I was hoping he’d forgotten. I had a list of reasons (6) why staying home would have been a better option – but I chose not to share them. I could see the joy he was getting by talking about the ride.
So – because it was Father’s Day – I agreed.
We put on our bike gear, pumped up the tires on our road bikes and set off on a familiar 25-mile ride through Cherry Creek State Park.
I began the ride with a heaviness for all the things I was putting off. But within 2 miles, my breathing and my thoughts improved.
Without trying – I was connecting with my partner, I was moving and I was getting out of my head.
This – in part – is how Dr. Murthy envisions challenging loneliness. Even in my reluctance, connecting with my partner resulted in a rejuvenation of my mind, my body and my spirit.
Halfway through the ride, I humbly admitted how reluctant I’d been to go on the ride AND how thankful I was that he’d encouraged me to go anyway.
TOOL: Waking up to your whole self
Using the insights of George Gurdjieff (1866-1949), an Armenian/Greek philosopher and mystic whose ideas make up The Fourth Way, here is an approach I find very useful with my coaching clients to connect the three centers of the body.
The Intellectual Center – the thinking center. This is where you solve problems, assign tasks, review projects, create new initiatives.
The Emotional Center – the feeling center. This is where you have empathy for your colleagues and family members, feel pain and express joy.
The Moving Center – the physical center. This is where you engage your body in activity, and typically the most underused center because you don’t trust the importance of the body in mental awareness.
Three steps for waking up:
1. Identify your primary center and notice where you spend most of your time.
2. Once you’re aware of your primary center, invite the next center into your presence and observe what happens as these two centers interact.
3. Before you’re too comfortable, bring in your least used center and offer it attention and explore how all three work together.
This is how the wake-up call might play out. You use your intellect to integrate periods of in-depth work, then connect emotionally with yourself and those around you and finally create consistent space for physical activity to ‘cement’ what you’re doing. The physical, emotional and moving centers now complement each other.
By using all three centers consistently throughout the day, you achieve a state of mental well-being. You are awake and prepared for whatever is in store.
The best news from Dr. Murthy’s assessment of our epidemic of loneliness is that we are talking about this at home, in our work and with our kids. As a life, executive and communications coach, I’ve shared his findings with a number of clients and several have experienced the weight of their loneliness easing as they discover how to be more present with others in every area of their lives.
I know that I am at my best when I share my life with others and connect, when I physically move throughout the day and when I challenge my thoughts and get out of my head. And every day, I rinse and repeat.